by Will MacLaren
The Absolutely Unexpected
If you’ve watched hockey long enough, especially at a localized level, you’ll recall any number of players that, though they may not have captured the attention of the world stage, earned a special significance from those who watched them ply their trade.
Maybe they could win the key draw seemingly every time or throw the perfectly timed big hit. Maybe they could skate effortlessly or whistle the perfect wrister through a crowd in front of the net or come out to the lip of the crease to flash the leather with a little extra pizzazz. Or maybe it was a player that you patiently (or impatiently) waited to hop over the boards for their next shift because you simply did not know what they’d do next.
Alexei Tezikov was the type of player that fit several of these descriptions; none more so than the latter. Perhaps no other player in the history of the Moncton Wildcats conveyed a sense of the unexpected as much as this dynamic bundle of raw power from halfway across the world. This is what makes his untimely death yesterday at the age of 42 several parts tragedy with more than a touch of irony.
Tezikov was selected in the 1996 CHL Import Draft, electing to stay in his native Russia for one more campaign before debuting in the “Q”. On this side of the pond, the team that selected him was poised to start putting the pieces together in earnest after two shaky post-expansion seasons.
There was some hype around the mysterious rearguard (Elite Prospects and YouTube weren’t even an outlandish idea in the fall of ’97), though seemingly no more than what was bestowed on a young Wildcats core that included goaltender JF Damphousse, defensemen Jonathan Desroches and Alexandre Vigneault as well as forwards Simon Laliberte and Sebastien Roger. Where would Tezikov fit in this transitioning team and how would he make his presence known?
He made an impression. Literally. As in, there were indentations and smudges along the boards at the Moncton Coliseum for some time after opposing players felt the wrath of the physicality and howitzer-like shot of a player that was the rough equivalent of an anvil on skates (a fleet of foot anvil, but I digress). In a junior hockey market still waiting for their first taste of a winner and a player that would bring them out of their seats, Alexi Tezikov was flat out worth the price of admission every single night.
Of course, those who watched him at the time no doubt has their own personal memories. The night he put any number of opposing forwards into roughly the fifth row of those (at the time) shiny new blue seats in the Coliseum’s lower bowl.
Hunting down Foreurs star JP Dumont during a bench-clearing brawl like a bear staking out its next meal (admittedly, it wasn’t always pretty). That time he blew up Cape Breton’s Yannick Carpentier at his own blueline, gloves and stick flying haphazardly. An end to end rush against Chicoutimi in the playoffs that concluded with one of the most electrifying goals I’ve ever seen in person (the fact that he added three assists and finished the game involved in a multi-player scuffle probably sums up Alexei Tezikov the player better than anything that could possibly be written).
In short, on a team that was still developing, when the need for someone to hit the ice and set the tone was badly needed, Alexei Tezikov was the man, though not yet a man himself. He may have been worth the price of admission to the fans, but he was worth his weight in gold to his teammates.
As entertained as I was by Tezikov the player, my most indelible memory of him occurred off the ice. In the winter of 1998-99, Alexi was back, albeit unexpectedly and, it would so turn out, fleetingly. After starting the season in the NHL with the Washington Capitals (one of the first players in Alpines/Wildcats history to reach “the show”), he found his way first to the old IHL Cincinnati Cyclones, then back to Moncton, leaving the club with three European players and forcing it to deal one of them, forward Dimitry Afanasenkov. Shortly after Tezikov’s return, I was asked to write my first article about the QMJHL for a long-defunct syndicated sports publication called Sports Times. It was to be a profile on the other European on the Wildcats roster, then Buffalo Sabres prospect Dimitri Kalinin. And it was while standing in the tunnel leading to the Cats dressing room while awaiting the wrap up of a lengthy late afternoon practise that the team’s former Goaltender Coach, Media Liaison and all around good guy, Frantz Bergevin-Jean, quickly realized I was missing an important tool in securing the interview I sought; a translator. Kalinin barely spoke a word of English. Frantz called Tezikov to the bench, gestured towards me and Alexi nodded his head yes. Problem solved.
So, as prolific as Alexei Tezikov’s brief tenure in Moncton was on the ice, for me he will always be remembered, first and foremost, as the impromptu translator that took a few minutes after a grueling practice to help some random 17-year-old goober complete an article that would gain as much traction as a kid running up a fully functioning Slip N Slide.
A few weeks after that chance encounter, Tezikov was gone again. This time, to the AHL Rochester Americans, the beneficiary of that time-honored rule; a 20-year old can play anywhere professionally if he can find an available spot. The Wildcats’ first true catalyst was gone. And it showed. The team sputtered through the rest of the year before flaming out in spectacular fashion at the hands of the Rimouski Oceanic in a playoff run that lasted precisely five days.
Of course, Tezikov would be back. He found a long term girlfriend during his days in Moncton. In the years to come, it wouldn’t be unusual to spot him in a rink or a mall or a grocery store somewhere around town, as pedestrian in those instances as he was bombastic on the Coliseum ice.
And now, he is gone for good. Pulled from us as quickly and as devastatingly as any check he ever unleashed in his hockey career. For those who remember those early days of junior hockey in Moncton and the Maritimes in general, he was one you would never forget. And as time rolled along, it really felt like he was our little secret, even if that “little secret” was more often than not as discreet as a hand grenade. I wonder if the fans who cheered him on in Portland, Maine or Winnipeg, Manitoba or the Amur region of Russia ever got that same sense of the unexpected that he gave the fans of his first stop in North American hockey?
I choose to believe they did. I find it hard to believe a guy like Alexei could glide onto any sheet of ice without making his presence felt.
Rest easy Tez. Thanks for the memories.